NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE

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Sen. Dan Hughes

Sen. Dan Hughes

District 44

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Last week all forty-nine senators and committees had a deadline to designate their priority bills. Once those advance from their respective committees’ debate will then begin on the floor. As chairman, I have designated LB 858 as one of two committee priority bills for the Natural Resources Committee. LB 858 was brought to me by MEAN the Municipal Energy Agency of Nebraska, this bill reorganizes, updates, and simplifies the basic governance of MEAN. Also, it is important to note that this bill is what we refer to as a Christmas tree bill which is a common practice for committee priority bills. We take one bill and amend a few smaller bills that are usually not controversial to it so they all have a chance to pass this year. If you look at the committee amendment it will list all of the bills attached to LB 858, the original bill. The bills added in the committee amendment are as listed: LB 856 which extends the sunset date for the Petroleum Release Remedial Action Act from June 30, 2020, to June 30, 2024, LB 855 which eliminates legislative confirmation for members appointed to the Niobrara Council, and LB 367 extends the termination date of the Nebraska Litter Reduction and Recycling Act from October 30, 2020, to September 30, 2025, and it also strikes language allowing transfers from the Nebraska Litter Reduction and Recycling Fund to the General Fund at the discretion/direction of the Legislature.

There is a big federal push to supply money to service providers to build high-speed broadband out to rural areas across the nation. The FCC launched the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, RDOF, which will supply $20.4 billion over a 10 year period to help service these areas. These areas experience slow speeds, limited coverage, or are devoid of service. Senator Brandt is addressing this pressing issue at the state legislative level with LB 996. LB 996 allows the state of Nebraska to participate in the FCC’s Digital Opportunity Data Collection that will assist with the collection of data. The 2020 census will be on April 1st of this year. That data will then be used to designate new census blocks that will aid in the expansion of high-speed broadband. Under these 2010 census blocks, 100mi² is considered served. This is a disservice to folks who need improved broadband coverage to run businesses, schools, and residences. 

A brief update on the Revenue Committee’s priority bill. LB974 was debated upon Thursday and still remains on General File. There is a strong sentiment in the body that the incentive package for the state, the Nebraska Advantage Act which expires in December of this year, will not move forward until there is property tax relief. There is enough support to stop that bill. In doing so it will then put pressure on the chamber to put pressure on senators to work out a compromise before it is advanced.

 

Last week the legislature gave second-round approval on my bill LB 126 and amendment 2380.  This amendment made the following changes to the bill: A limited permit to hunt deer issued to a qualifying landowner would run Saturday, Sunday, and Monday immediately preceding the opening day of firearm deer season.  No more than four permits may be issued per qualifying landowner or designated members of his or her immediate family. Of those four permits no more than two permits may be issued to persons who are younger than nineteen years of age and no more than two permits may be issued to persons who are nineteen years of age or older.  This amendment would limit one permit per person. Lastly, the cost is five dollars per permit.

The Revenue Committee gave a committee priority designation to LB 974. The bill will allow the ability to lower property taxes and change school funding in Nebraska. On February 13th the bill was advanced out of the Revenue Committee along with committee amendment AM 2433.  The committee amendment would strike the entire original bill in place of new language. The amendment would repeal the Personal Property Tax Relief Act beginning with 2020’s tax year; which spans from January 1st to December 31st, 2020. It would also lower the taxable valuation for residential and commercial assessed valuation for school districts, starting in 2020 to 95%, 2021 to 91% and 2022 and thereafter to 87% of actual value.  Ag land taxable valuations would also be reduced, starting in 2020 to 65%, 2021 60% and 2022 and thereafter to 55% of actual value. The statutory maximum tax rate for school districts for fiscal year 2022-2023 is $1.05 per $100 of taxable valuation. After the 2023 fiscal year, each school district will have its own statutory maximum levy. The maximum levy will be 5 cents per $100 of taxable valuation plus the local effort rate of $1.00 or the calculated local formula contribution.  School districts that have passed a levy override prior to the effective date of this act will have access to a levy exclusion for the 5-year period of their levy override. This bill should be debated this week. Once that happens I will have a better idea if it is going anywhere. Schools are opposed to the current form of this bill. It remains to be seen if we can amend it to their satisfaction.

Senator Wendy DeBoer from Omaha introduced LB 1073 which was referenced to the Education Committee.  This bill would allow more state funding to school districts and reduce our reliance on property taxes by making three changes:  Ag land valuation would be lowered from 75% to 55% of its actual value within the TEEOSA formula only. Secondly, the local effort rate would be decreased from one dollar to ninety-nine cents.  Lastly, each school district would receive 7.5% in basic funding aid which is a new source of state aid. This bill also creates a 16 member School Finance Review Commission. They are tasked with preparing a final report with recommendations on maintaining adequate and equitable funding for public schools.

We are over a third of the way through this legislative session and we still have a lot of important issues to deal with.  In a short session, however, prioritizing a bill gives it a better chance of being heard on the floor of the legislature. We have until adjournment on February 21st to submit a senator priority bill designation. Committees are also allowed to submit up to two bills for priority designation. We can submit a request for a Speaker priority bill designation until February 19th.  At this time I have not decided on a bill to make my personal priority. I have yet to decide upon a bill to designate as my senator priority bill. 

I am sure many of you have heard about LB58, the so-called “red flag law”. It is a carryover bill that was voted out of the Judiciary Committee last Friday with a 5-2-1 vote. The two recorded “nay” votes came from the only two Republican senators that serve on the committee. The Judiciary Committee filed AM2123 as of last Friday which strikes sections and adds new language. We would see a fiscal impact on the state by enacting LB58. This bill would allow several of our Federal Constitutional rights to be violated concurrently. This bill would allow anyone who believes you are a danger to yourself or to others to report you to local law enforcement. Your privacy would be violated and your guns confiscated without any due process of law. Michael Bloomberg of New York has been spending millions of dollars around the country promoting the banning of guns, a direct assault on our 2nd Amendment rights. Subsequently, some of that influence has found its way to Nebraska. I want to be very clear, there are people living among us who should not own guns. Those convicted of violent crimes, those who are deemed mentally incompetent, and individuals with protection orders, are not and should not be allowed to possess guns. The legislature has enacted legislation throughout the years that provide enforcement and compliance. One of the cornerstones of our democracy is that one is innocent until proven guilty.  LB58 begins with the assumption of a guilty verdict until proven innocent with someone outside of law enforcement or credentials in a given diagnostic field to make that judgment.

As of this article’s publication, no senator has submitted a request for LB58 to be their priority bill. I have not heard of any colleagues thinking along those lines. It will have to take a senator’s priority designation for us to see any debate over this bill’s contents. I would like to discuss this on the floor and have votes tallied so our constituents know exactly where we as their elected representatives stand on the 2nd Amendment, especially those up for re-election. If LB58 somehow receives a personal priority designation and does move to the floor for debate by the full legislative body, I will be fully engaged along with many of my colleagues doing everything within our power to stop this assault on our civil liberties and our personal freedoms.

Please feel free to contact my office with any questions or concerns that you might have. My email address is dhughes@leg.ne.gov and my phone number is (402) 471-2805. You can read more about bills and other work of the Legislature at www.nebraskalegislature.gov, and you can click on the Live Video Streaming NET logo to watch sessions, hearings, and other Capitol events.

We are already a fourth of the way through this sixty-day session. Over the last several weeks I have been discussing some of the bills that I have introduced this year. Another bill is LB 1072, which I introduced because of the devastating spring floods last year. This bill would give bonding authority to any Natural Resource District in the state of Nebraska for flood protection projects. This is similar to what the Papio NRD has currently, which serves Douglas, Sarpy, and Washington counties within the Papillion Creek Watershed. These projects may include structures like channels, canals, dams, reservoirs, basins, and levees. It is important legislation for those natural resource districts in northern and eastern Nebraska to mitigate risks that may be in our future.

There are numerous levees within the northern and eastern Nebraska river systems that were washed away in the spring flood. There has been a challenge in getting those levees rebuilt. LB 1072 would allow natural resource districts to earmark 1 cent of their levy authority for bonding. The 1 cent has to be within the NRD’s levy lid of 4.5 cents.  It would give any NRD funds for cost-share to apply for matching grants in order to build flood mitigation structures. This will mean not only with state dollars but with federal dollars as well. The state of Nebraska does not have a hand in the maintenance or construction of those mitigation structures, because the state has made natural resource districts fully responsible for flood control and levees within the state. The Papio NRD has had access to this type of program for several years. They have built several structures for flood control north of Omaha. There was no flooding on the Papio Creek with the spring flood compared to the streams and rivers to the north and west of Omaha.

Another part of this bill will include AM2171, an issue that came too late to be introduced as a bill, so we have to introduce it as an amendment. It will be heard the same day as LB 1072, Wednesday, February 5th.  This amendment will allow Gering-Fort Laramie Irrigation District to borrow the funds they need to repair a collapsed canal tunnel in time for the 2020 irrigation season. Currently, surface water districts are forbidden from borrowing money. They have to operate within their budget every year. They need additional dollars in which to pay for repairs and enter into contracts for the repairs to those tunnels and canal systems that they have for surface water in order to move forward.

Please feel free to contact my office with any questions or concerns that you might have. My email address is dhughes@leg.ne.gov and my phone number is (402) 471-2805. You can read more about bills and other work of the Legislature at www.nebraskalegislature.gov, and you can click on the Live Video Streaming NET logo to watch sessions, hearings, and other Capitol events.

 

As a legislative body, we have introduced an additional 482 bills in this session. The last day of bill introduction was January 23rd. Bill hearings will continue in committees until the last week of February.  I would like to discuss a few more bills that I have introduced, all of which will have hearings before the Natural Resource Committee.

LB 859 changes qualifications for Game and Parks commissioners. Currently, guidelines state that three commissioners need to have agricultural interests. In an attempt to make the commission more responsive to landowners, I’m looking to change that to three commissioners who derive a substantial portion of their income from agricultural production.

LB 860 will change the boundaries of the Game and Parks districts. Currently, the Game and Parks commissioners represent eight districts that are set up based on population with the ninth district at large. My bill bases the representation on the geographic area instead because the Game and Parks Commission manages land and wildlife, not people.

LB 863 limits land ownership by the Game and Parks Commission. The bill is scheduled for a hearing this coming Thursday, January 30th. This bill has generated a great deal of response. Last fall, during the interim hearings in Scottsbluff and McCook, the committee heard input from individuals who shared concerns about different sites specifically around western Nebraska but certainly not limited to that area of parks and properties. Some of the concerns mentioned were the obvious lack of maintenance, responsibilities such as weeds not being mowed, building structures in disrepair, and fences not being maintained. LB 863 will put a stop on property acquisition until they can catch up and maintain the properties that they currently own and manage.

LB 1071 creates a fund to pay landowners for crop damage from the state’s wildlife. I am hoping to create a three-million-dollar fund. The source for the funding would come from an increase or surcharge on hunting fees or possibly an application fee on each license. Three million dollars is a big number, but the amount of damage that is being done by the state’s wildlife is considerable. This bill is a result of the interim hearings in Scottsbluff and McCook. We heard from landowners who were able to document the damage being done to their properties.  Some of them provided drone footage and aerial photos, and also explained how they used yield maps to document the loss of production due to deer, elk, and antelope on their properties. This legislation is proposed in order to give the landowner a way to recoup some of those losses.

Please feel free to contact my office with any questions or concerns that you might have. My email address is dhughes@leg.ne.gov and my phone number is (402) 471-2805. You can read more about bills and other work of the Legislature at www.nebraskalegislature.gov, and you can click on the Live Video Streaming NET logo to watch sessions, hearings, and other Capitol events.

Tuesday of this week committees commenced hearings on bills introduced this year. I will be addressing the contents of LB 861, LB 862, and LB 899 this week. These bills have been referenced to the Natural Resources Committee. 

Over the past decade, numerous cities and other local governmental units have been subject to special interest activism that would either ban or tax consumer merchandise packaging and other containers or products used by consumers. Items like plastic bags, bottles, cups, cutlery, straws, Styrofoam (EPS), and other similar products have been subject to this tax. If any of those proposed local ordinances had been enacted, the business sector would have been subject to an amalgamation of city ordinances, local mandates, taxes, fees, and regulations. It would have made it impossible for them to comply with regulations within their communities, state, across state lines, and the global economy. LB861 amends the Nebraska Intergovernmental Solid Waste Management Act by defining the terms “consumer merchandise” and “container”. The bill provides that local governments shall not adopt regulations that set standards or requirements regarding the sale or marketing of consumer merchandise and containers, therefore, allowing for more uniform regulation. With this change, business and industry will avoid having to comply with varying or conflicting regulations among and between local jurisdictions in Nebraska. The bill would provide for additional state policy under the act to encourage recycling and secondary uses of solid waste through biomass and pyrolysis processes. The bill continues to allow local governments the authority to regulate solid waste, recycling collection, solid waste, and recycling programs. This bill was brought to me by a group of Nebraska retailers including the grocers association. LB 861 has not yet been scheduled for a hearing in the Natural Resources Committee.  

Another bill I am introducing this session is LB 862.  This bill was brought to me by the Nebraska Council of School Administrators. LB 862 would prohibit possession by minors of tobacco, electronic nicotine delivery systems, or alternative nicotine products. Our school administrators would like to have the option of involving law enforcement while trying to get a handle on the vaping problem. 

On Thursday of this week, the Natural Resources Committee will be hearing testimony on LB 899. This bill would allow any public power district to develop, manufacture, use, purchase, or sell biofuel and biofuel byproducts. Biofuel is defined as any fuel that is derived from biomass, plant or algae material or animal waste. Since such feedstock material can be replenished readily, biofuel is considered to be a source of renewable energy, unlike fossil fuels such as petroleum, coal, and natural gas. Therefore, it has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  The public power industry has already entered the biofuel market by being allowed to sell ethanol, so it seems appropriate that they be allowed to explore new technologies and products that could be financially beneficial to public power.

Please feel free to contact my office with any questions or concerns that you might have. My email address is dhughes@leg.ne.gov and my phone number is (402) 471-2805. You can read more about bills and other work of the Legislature at www.nebraskalegislature.gov, and you can click on the Live Video Streaming NET logo to watch sessions, hearings, and other Capitol events.

The One Hundred Sixth Legislature’s second session kicked off last week on Wednesday.  This week we will begin floor debate on a few of the carryover bills from last year which range from abortion to property tax relief. Governor Ricketts’ State of the State Address will commence at 9:00 am MT/10:00 CT this Wednesday.

As of Monday, January 13th I have introduced nine bills. A few of the bills I have introduced include giving landowners ownership of groundwater and creating funds for pulse crop growers. I have also introduced legislation that will bring changes to provisions relating to the length of term and appointment of game and parks commission members and one that prohibits possession by minors of tobacco, electronic nicotine delivery systems, or alternative products.

I would like to expand on a few bills I have introduced. LB 802 was brought to me by the Nebraska Cattlemen and the Nebraska Farm Bureau. In essence, the bill reaffirms that the amount of groundwater one may pump is directly related to the amount of overlying land one owns. There have been a few Supreme Court rulings stating its justification. In the 2018 case Upper Republican Nat. Res. Dist. v. Dundy Cty. Bd. of Equalization, the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled, “We find no reason to treat underground uses – in this case, the use of the aquifer, wells and pipeline system – differently from any other use of the property. As the NRD points out, use of the groundwater is a derivative right immediately dependent on ownership of the surface over it.” This bill simply reaffirms this ruling and ties land ownership to groundwater pumping rights.

Another bill I have introduced is LB 803 which addresses pulse crop growers of the state who would like a checkoff program to generate funds for research and to market promotional efforts. Pulse crops include dry peas, chickpeas, and lentils just to name the more prominent ones. These crops have been grown in Nebraska for quite a few years now and are gaining popularity with farmers as an alternative crop. We have grown dry peas on our farm for the last 4 or 5 years and it looks like it is a crop that certainly has some promise throughout the state.

The last bill I will cover this week is LB 858. This bill was brought to me by MEAN. The Municipal Energy Agency of Nebraska, which is the not-for-profit wholesale electricity supply organization of NMPP Energy created in 1981. This bill does not make any significant changes to MEAN, it updates and streamlines some of the statutes that have not been changed in almost 40 years. In the 44th District, we have a number of communities that receive services from MEAN.

As always, I am interested in hearing from my constituents on any of the topics that come before the Legislature. Please feel free to reach out to me at dhughes@leg.ne.gov or give my office a call at 402-471-2805.

2020 Session Kickoff
January 15th, 2020

Happy New Year! As we swing into the next decade the second session of the 106th Legislature commences on Wednesday, January 8th. This will be a 60-day session that is scheduled to last until April 23rd. Bills will be introduced in the first 10 days of this session plus we still have all of the carryover bills from the first session. Public hearings are scheduled to begin Tuesday, January 21st. Committee chairpersons and members remain the same in this second session. As Chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, I will be addressing bills that carried over from the first session as well as any incoming bills that directly relate to the committee and our main concerns.

Of course, property taxes are still the number one issue for me. Fortunately, the State of Nebraska has had some additional revenue come in above projections and consequently, we have some extra dollars to direct toward property tax relief. The challenge, now that we have some money to work with, is how do we redistribute those dollars where they are most needed. I am still of the opinion the agriculture producers of the state need relief first. It was agriculture’s real estate taxes that have more than doubled in the last 10 to 15 years. This is due to a flaw in our state aid to schools funding formula. There has been a tremendous tax burden shift from the state taxpayers onto the backs of our farmers and ranchers. They are the ones who deserve relief first. Hopefully, we can accomplish that upfront and craft legislation that will grant property tax relief to homeowners and commercial property taxpayers in 2021. And hopefully set the state on a course of less reliance on property taxes for years to come.

A big topic of contention last year was the ImagiNE Act, LB720. I am a firm believer in incentives, e.g., attracting businesses and retaining quality employees. LB720 is set to replace the Nebraska Advantage Act which expires at the end of December 2020. The Nebraska Advantage Act provides incentives to recruit businesses in Nebraska and aids in creating a quality workforce to challenge our neighboring states. It will have a slim chance of passing if changes are not made to the original version and not enough time is spent discussing the contents of the bill and its lasting effects. The challenge for me will be making sure that funding will not be concentrated in the eastern ⅓ of the state and verifying that funding will be allocated across the state.

My office has moved to the southwest quadrant of the Capitol, into room 1117. We will be located here for approximately 18 months or so as the original location of the Natural Resources office will be in the new phase of renovation.

Please feel free to contact my office with any questions or concerns that you might have. My email address is dhughes@leg.ne.gov and my phone number is (402) 471-2805. You can read more about bills and other work of the Legislature at www.nebraskalegislature.gov, and you can click on the Live Video Streaming NET logo to watch sessions, hearings, and other Capitol events.

December 2019 Interim Article
December 9th, 2019

On April 17, 2018, Governor Ricketts signed LB 994 into law which created the Rural Broadband Task Force. The core responsibilities of this task force include reviewing broadband issues in relation to feasibility, ratification, and cost-effectiveness. They released their findings in October of this year; rural broadband speeds have significantly increased since 2016, but present new woes. 

The legislature’s Transportation and Telecommunications Committee is paying close attention to this issue. We are trying to encourage the build-out to rural Nebraska by telecom companies that have territorial jurisdiction. We are also fully engaged with the Public Service Commission of Nebraska to make sure those internet providers are meeting their goals. There are significant federal and state matching funds available to support the build-out to rural Nebraska. An estimated one in ten rural Nebraskans reports extensive limitations from their home internet service provider. Modern advancements are an aid in resolving this limitation; e.g. fixed wireless using mid-band spectrums like 5G, low earth orbit satellites like StarLink, and TV white space. Currently, 89% of Nebraskans have access to fixed broadband of at least 25 Mbps down/3 Mbps up compared to 63% of rural Nebraskans. Rural areas tend to be charged up to 37% more on average than their urban counterparts who have faster speeds, wider coverage, and little to no data caps.

Our schools have made significant investments in computers for our students and we need to make sure they can fully utilize those purchases by making sure internet access outside of the school campus is sufficient. This disparity creates an inconsistent environment for students; those who are unable to complete homework from home and those who have access. This is due to a number of issues: having no internet provider in the area, slow speeds, or data caps. Libraries in rural areas are able to ease some student woes. Unfortunately, not enough of these institutions apply for E-Rate funding. This is due to the difficulty of the application process and concerns about filtering content for students. 

Please feel free to contact my office with any questions or concerns that you might have. My email address is dhughes@leg.ne.gov and my phone number is (402) 471-2805. You can read more about bills and other work of the Legislature at www.nebraskalegislature.gov, and you can click on the Live Video Streaming NET logo to watch sessions, hearings, and other Capitol events.

There’s a lot going on at the state capitol building.  Not only are we gearing up to start the 2020 legislative session that will begin on January 8th but over 20 senators and staff will be moving office locations.  These office moves are a result of the renovation project to update the heating and air conditioning system from steam to an HVAC system. Geothermal wells were dug a few blocks away and have completed digging about half of the needed wells. When completed there will be 225 wells and will feature a closed-loop system. The current heating and cooling systems are more than 50 years old.  Additional projects include: fire sprinklers added to offices, the fire alarm system was updated, the windows were updated to be energy-efficient, and the outer hallways had dropped ceilings removed which allows for more natural light. In the offices, the walls were repainted and new carpet was installed in order to return the capitol to its original color scheme. In order to keep the capitol open and as many offices as possible within the building, restoration will be completed in phases going quadrant by quadrant. The southwest quadrant was in phase 1 and was recently completed.  This is a lengthy undertaking and it’s not expected to be completed until 2025.  

In the early 2000s, the exterior of the capitol went through an extensive multi-phase restoration which was completed in 2010.  Some of the restorations included the sower, bronze windows, the copper roofs, masonry at the tower, base, and courtyards. Our state capitol is a historic landmark and these repairs and rehabilitation are vital to preserving our capitol.

My current office, room 1210, is located in the phase 2 quadrant my office will start moving into room 1117 next week and should be in that office for the next 18 months. After phase 2 is completed we will be moved back into room 1210. We will then move the office back into room 1210 after phase 2 is completed. Our phone number will remain the same.

I hope you and your family have a Happy Thanksgiving.

Please feel free to contact my office with any questions or concerns that you might have. My email address is dhughes@leg.ne.gov and my phone number is (402) 471-2805. You can read more about bills and other work of the Legislature at www.nebraskalegislature.gov, and you can click on the Live Video Streaming NET logo to watch sessions, hearings, and other Capitol events.

Sen. Dan Hughes

District 44
Room #1117
P.O. Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
Phone: (402) 471-2805
Email: dhughes@leg.ne.gov
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